Proposed Security Law in Hong Kong Raises Concerns for Academic Freedom and Research

HONG KONG – Academics in Hong Kong express concerns over a proposed local security law that could impact research and academic freedom. The law, introduced by the Hong Kong government, outlines seven national security offenses and includes provisions prohibiting the disclosure of economic and social information deemed important for Hong Kong and China’s security. The proposed legislation has led to fears that it could impede international research collaboration and be used to hinder academics under the pretext of national security rules. The new law would exist alongside China’s national security law for Hong Kong. The proposal has a short public consultation period, ending on February 28, which critics argue limits the time for responses.

Since the enactment of China’s national security law in 2020, an exodus of academics from Hong Kong’s universities has been ongoing. With the introduction of the proposed security law, academics fear further constraints on academic freedom. The law’s definition of ‘state secrets’ and ‘unlawful disclosure’ is also a major concern among academics as it could lead to ambiguity and potential repercussions for research. The turnover of academics in Hong Kong’s publicly funded universities was the highest in two decades in 2022-2023, with 380 academics leaving their posts.

The proposed legislation criminalizes the disclosure of non-public information that endangers national security, including information on policy decisions, defense, international relations, and technological and scientific development. It also targets collaboration with external forces and the publication of false or misleading information. Some academics are concerned that working with foreign counterparts or publishing reports deemed untrue could violate the new security law.

Government officials have sought to address concerns by stating that the law’s definition of ‘foreign forces’ does not cover universities and that poorly done research would not be regarded as deliberate misrepresentation. However, academics remain skeptical, citing previous cases where assurances did not hold. They argue that the proposed legislation brings Hong Kong closer to mainland China’s restrictions on data and emphasizes the need for greater control and classification of information.

The ongoing exodus of academics from Hong Kong’s universities, coupled with the proposed security law, raises questions about the future of academic freedom and intellectual life in the region. While productive research may continue, the vibrant intellectual environment that has made Hong Kong universities successful could be at risk. The impact of the proposed law on the academic community remains a pressing concern, with the potential for further departures and a shift towards researchers from mainland China who are accustomed to the mainland’s tools and restrictions.

As the public consultation period for the proposed law continues, academics and the broader community in Hong Kong await the outcome, conscious of the implications it may have on research, academic freedom, and the intellectual life of the city.